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Violent Juarez video game upsets critics

Doug Gross
"Call of Juarez: Cartel" brings an Old West series into the present and has stirred controversy in the process.
"Call of Juarez: Cartel" brings an Old West series into the present and has stirred controversy in the process.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Call of Juarez: The Cartel" sets video game in modern-day Mexican border city
  • Officials, others say game demeans the city, glorifies drug violence
  • Creators say "Call of Juarez" is fictional and not meant to represent actual events
  • Fifty-three people were reported killed in Juarez in recent 72-hour period, officials say

(CNN) -- Against a very real backdrop of murder, kidnapping and torture, an upcoming video game is inviting players to "embark on a bloody road trip" to the Mexican border city of Juarez.

"Call of Juarez: The Cartel" is an update to an Old West series from Ubisoft. But this time, players are inserted into the city in a game set in the present.

As some of the most brutal fighting yet between drug cartels in the region rages on, the game has officials and others upset.

"Of course, it is something that those of us who love our city don't like at all," Jose Reyes-Ferriz, the former mayor of Juarez, told CNN on Monday. "It's something that demeans our city."

Saying violence in and around Juarez is "not something to be made light of," Reyes-Ferriz said that gamers, unlike a generally older public that follows events in Juarez through the news media, could have their entire image of the city created by the game.

"This is a different generation than people who watch the news," he said. "It affects their perception of the city for many, many years to come."

Talk about the game has ramped up after a particularly bloody weekend.

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Fifty-three people were killed in a 72-hour span in Ciudad Juarez, making it one of the deadliest three-day periods in recent memory, state attorney general's office spokesman Arturo Sandoval told CNN Sunday.

Juarez is one of Mexico's deadliest cities and an epicenter of drug cartel violence. The Juarez cartel and the Sinaloa cartel are fighting a bloody turf war in the region for lucrative smuggling routes, and for drug-dealing territory in the city.

In the first 40 days of 2011, Juarez averaged eight homicides per day.

The game's publisher, Ubisoft, said the game isn't meant to represent the real situation in Juarez.

" 'Call of Juarez: The Cartel' is purely fictional and developed by the team at Techland for entertainment purposes only," the company said in a written statement. "While 'Call of Juarez: The Cartel' touches on subjects relevant to current events in Juarez, it does so in a fictional manner that makes the gaming experience feel more like being immersed in an action movie than in a real-life situation.

"Ubisoft is an entertainment company and our intention is to create a unique experience for video game fans."

Techland is the developer that created "Call of Juarez" and "Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood." Those games are set during and shortly after the U.S. Civil War.

The website for the first-person shooting game says it "brings the lawlessness of the Old West into present day.

"You'll embark on a bloody road trip from Los Angeles to Juarez, Mexico, immersing yourself in a gritty plot with interesting characters and a wide variety of game play options."

The company's explanation hasn't done much to stem the criticism, though.

On Sunday, lawmakers in Chihuahua, the state that includes Ciudad Juarez, told the Washington Post they have asked federal authorities to ban the game in Mexico. The lawmakers unanimously voted to ask for the ban.

On the game's Facebook page, discussion has gone from gaming to the social ramifications of the game.

"Doesn't it seem a little socially irresponsible to capitalize and/or glorify what is ACTUALLY happening (violence, murder) because of the illegal drug trade in North America?" one user wrote on the game's discussion page. "If this game doesn't have a strong 'Illegal drugs should be legalized so that there is no longer crime related to drug trafficking' theme, then I'm boycotting Ubisoft forever."

Reyes-Ferriz says he wishes the game's creators would reconsider, but said he doesn't expect much in that regard.

"I know the process is not month-to-month or week-to-week -- I know it takes a couple of years to do a project like that," he said. "I think with all the headway they have, there's not going to be much that can be done."

"Call of Juarez: The Cartel" will be available for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles, according to its website. It is scheduled to go on sale this summer and is currently available for pre-order.

CNN's Nick Valencia contributed to this report.

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